Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top Playlist for 2013

Music is a magical thing.  In seconds it can elicit an emotional response, and before you can blink, a barrage of memories, feelings and thoughts can transport you to any time in your history, or make new memories.   2013 has been a good year for music.

I love how my iPhone can tell me what the top songs are in my playlist - out of hundreds, it narrows it down to 25.  Let me share - no judging - I am a fan of most music, and it is interesting looking at which ones I played the most.  It is, in its own way, a reflection of my year to some degree.

Here is my top 10.

1. Something I Need - OneRepublic

"If we only live once, I wanna live with you…"
I think OneRepublic are one of the best creative sounds for the year.  Not only are you inspired to sing along with them, but the lyrics are clever - the only downside is I'm kicking myself for not going to their concert this year.  Whilst this song is in the top of my playlist, I'm not all surprised that its there or that any of their other songs are there as well.   Since downloading this song, I have played it and played it - and when it hasn't been me, Squirt has been playing it.  Fortunately, I am not sick of it yet.  I have to say, I really enjoy their music, and Counting Stars is in the top 25 most played list this year as well - a testament to the talent and musicality of this group.

2. Go Gentle - Robbie Williams

"When you go giving your heart make sure they deserve it…"
I have posted about Robbie's new song previously - see here robbie-williams-go-gentle.  I think I summed it up nicely and theres no need to elaborate further!   Suffice to say it has such beautiful lyrics, a catchy tune and it makes me want to dance (which is not something I am prone to do).  In addition it is one of those songs you can't help but sing along with.

3. Let Her Go - Passenger

"Staring at the bottom of your glass, hoping one day you'll make a dream last"
For me, one of the best new alternative folk rock sounds of the year.  Their folksy, catchy songs bring a unique new brand to our airwaves (TechnoMan calls it 'greenie' and worthy of a Greenpeace soundtrack) that we haven't heard for sometime.  I loved this song the moment I heard it - so much so, that I pulled the car over and downloaded it there and then.   This song is about appreciating what you have and I love its message.  

4. SFM - Ginny Blackmore

"When I open my mouth, there is no place to hide…"
Oh she is a clever singer this young lady - her voice is a beautiful instrument.  I love the lyrics in this song - I can relate to her message - if explains exactly how I find writing, and what I get from music.   It is a song that touches my heart with its musicality and its message.

5. Get Along - Guy Sabastian

"When all the worlds collide, all they know is to divide, and its easy if they're faceless, to hate the other side"
I love this song.  It is not one of his songs that hit as much airtime as some of his other songs, but its soulful melancholy struck a chord with me, and the moment I heard it I fell in love with the beauty of the lyrics and the message it holds.  For me, one of the main hooks that I adore are the snare drums.  If only music like this had the power to change the world we live in for good.   Bless you Guy for a beautiful song.  xx

6. It's Worth It - Jackie Thomas

'We were just ankle deep, water started to creep.."
I love the melody in this song.  Its one of those great songs for turning up loud in your car and pretending you are a rockstar.  (assuming no one else is subjected to it)

7.  Diggin' Up Bones - Randy Travis 

'Im resurrecting memories of a love thats dead and gone…"
Be nice - no sniggering.  Randy Travis is one of the Kings of Country.  He has one of the most beautiful country voices around - its a soothing, sexy drawl that makes your soul sing.   This is one of my all time favourite songs - and I guess I must play it a lot for it to be in the top ten.  TechnoMan and Squirt are not as big a fan, its fair to say, and are not all that comfortable when its played really loud in the car!!   I first heard this when I was a teenager (and I confess I may have had a small crush on him shhhh) and I found it again a couple of years ago - thank the universe for iTunes Store!!  I guess what you learn about me is that you can take the girl out of the country but you can't take the country out of the girl!!

8. Gonna Be Ok - Chris Rene

"Have you ever thought about just ending, even toying with the curtain call…"
What I love about this song are the powerful lyrics, teamed with a hypnotic beat.  There is a clever mix between rapping and harmony - and all together, it makes for one of my favourite songs on my playlist. For me, it is a song with hope - it suggests that despite the hard times, others understand and you will be ok.    When I sing this song, it uplifts me and gives me a reason to soothe a bad day.

9. Demons - Imagine Dragons 

"Don't get too close, its dark inside, its where my demons hide…"
This is such a talented band, they have amazing lyrics and I love how they can pull the music together to create a powerful music experience.  This song makes you want to close your eyes and really feel the music.  Its a song you can relate to - we all have demons inside.  Beautiful.

10. Just Don't Ask Me How I know - Jasmine Rae 

"I cut my heart off of my sleeve so I can't feel the pain"  
Warning, put you judgement boots away, it is a another country song!  The first time I heard this song, I was browsing the iTunes store late one night, and it made me cry.  To elicit such a strong response meant I needed to buy it.  There is something about the lyrics and the wistful longing within the song that reaches into my soul, and I love this song.   I have it super loud in the car and I sing it as if my life depends on it.


Honourable Mention: 

Whilst not in my top ten - these songs need an honourable mention for their beauty and because I have sung them to death in my car this year - and frankly - I LOVE THEM! 

Stay *Feat Mikky Ekko) - Rihanna 

'Something in the way you move, makes me feel like I can't live without you'
This is simply stunning!! I love this song and I have to say she did an amazing job of singing it at her concert earlier this year.  There is a connection both of them have that brings this song to life.  I love the beauty and the drama of the song, the lyrics and how it all comes together.  It is for that reason I would classify this as one of this years best ballads.  To say that I have sung this song in my car over and over again on repeat is an understatement.  It misses out on the top ten by a smidgeon only!  It is the kind of song that brings out my inner rockstar goddess.  For that reason alone I am sure it will be a 'forever favourite' in my collection.

Sail - AWOL Nation, Megalithic Symphony 

"Maybe I'm a different breed, maybe I'm not listening, blame it on my ADD baby"
Alternative electronic rock music, this American band have produced a hypnotic and clever piece of music.  I heard it on the Whats Hot section of iTunes and had to download it as soon as it started.  I love its mix of sounds, its is quite simply, a modern symphony for the ears, with a darker, moodier tone that gives the listener a sense of being chilled out and laid back.

Holes - Passenger 

"The wolfs just a puppy, the doors double locked, why you have to worry me for…"
I love this song.  Its such a cheerful, upbeat little number and for me, I love the lyrics.  Theres a sense of such hope and the key message for me is that we need to look on the bright side.  Its a real 'universe will provide' kind of feel good song.  Like the earlier song, its folksy number is nice addition to the music landscape.  

Little Me - Little Mix

"I know she's brave but its trapped inside, scared to talk but she doesn't know why"
This is a recent addition to my playlist - and I have added it here to this list because I love the message.  Its a strong message for all girls.  In a year of songs that have disrespected woman and where twerking is the only way to get your song publicity (I know - that was harsh - and although I like the song in question someone had to say it) its refreshing to see a group of woman sing something with a nice message for our young woman to listen to.  It is something I wish I could tell my younger me.  So all you beautiful woman out there -you 'gotta speak up, shout out, everything you want to be.."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beware the Sheep that Howls

Have you noticed how life seems to have quite a number of wolves in it, cheerfully running around the world masquerading as sheep?  They come in all shapes, sizes and guises.  

With an election year on the horizon, I no doubt that there will be all kinds of new Canui Lupis pretending to be Ovis Aries, all wrapped up in shiny new suits ready to pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting public.   

The modern world is a complex place and there are a number of wolves we have to contend with.  These include the workplace wolf, the online wolf, and the family/friend wolf - this wolf in particular, is one of the worst in my opinion, on account of how unethical they are.  They take advantage of the people who care about them with no remorse and appear to have no moral fortitude.  The hope would be that you never have to encounter one of these wolves.  

Finally, lets not forget the general nuisance to the public wolf, these are the shonky salespeople, the scam artists, the email fraudsters and the new breed of annoying malevolent digital thief who calls someones house telling them their computers are at risk, and then they rip them off.   Once again, no remorse, no moral compass. 

At the heart of it, each of these wolves are manipulators.  They use their woolly disguise as a part of their manipulative machinations.

Whichever wolf you happen to encounter, look for any of the following manipulative traits.

The Power Wolf - imagine the sheep that starts to act like a predator.  A predator that stalks their victim and controls them, using intimidation, threats, blackmail and all other kinds of bully behaviour in order to get what they want.  

The Rescue Helper Wolf -these fleece lovers are always offering to do something, to help out and be there - even when they are not needed. As a result you will always feel you owe them one.  They make their victims feel obligated to do their bidding, and will remind you of when they did something for you.  There is always a hidden agenda with them.  

The Guilt and Shame Wolf - these impostors use tactics to make you feel guilty or ashamed and as a result you are always filling their emotional cup.  They are quite emotionally unstable and liable to lose the plot with you, twisting and turning everything you say and do, and getting others to see you in a bad light.  

The Puppeteer Wolf - perhaps one of the wolves to be more wary of, these are particularly manipulative.  They use other people to do their bidding for them, and have the ability to manipulate events, people and situations where others side with them.  The danger is in that they drive wedges between friends, family and colleagues, and create major havoc.  

The Emotionally Weak Wolf - these are the wolves who imply that if you don't look after them and something bad happens, it will be all your fault.   They hide behind their pretend weaknesses.  

The Charismatic Wolves - they like to flirt and be in the limelight.  They will only use their victim in so much as it results in them looking good or getting some reward from it.  They will never be interested in your needs or your feelings, merely in being the centre of attention.  They prey on your weakness of wanting to be loved, liked, feel pretty/handsome - they sense your own misgivings and play to that.  They use your hurt as their stepping stones to greatness.

Your protection against these Wolves?

First and foremost, look for the signs that indicate there is a wolf masquerading as a sheep.  Look for the types of manipulative behaviour outlined above.
When something seems out of place, ask yourself, 'what does my gut say - what is my intuition telling me?'  Sometimes, if something doesn't smell, feel or look right, then it isn't. Trust yourself, and learn how to hone these skills. 

If you seem to attract the wolves dressed in the latest woollen creation, ask yourself, 'in what way am I being deceived?'   If people use your good nature against you by guilt tripping you - learn to say no.  If you are by nature a rescuer - people will take advantage of that.   Work out which need of your own is being unfulfilled. 
The wolf gets in through the door when our own defences are low, and our trust detector batteries are waning.  The need to be liked, feel pretty/handsome, have attention, be listened to, respected or feel some kind of value, resides in us all. We are, after all, human. Unfortunately, these human traits can be vulnerabilities that a manipulator will use to further their own ends.

Teach yourself the art of saying 'I have every confidence in your ability to solve this issue for yourself'. Hand the monkey back.  The wolves who like to guilt trip you don't like this.  

Don't be afraid of saying no - there won't be any consequences if the person you say no to is genuine and not manipulating you for their own means.   Remember, you have a choice.  If there are consequences then this is a good thing - you have just revealed the true colours of your wolf. 
If you're dealing with an emotional manipulator wolf, write down what they say, and hold them accountable. 

With all wolves, because manipulation is the master plan for them all, ask yourself the following questions, and find out where you will draw the line.  

What is the line you won't cross? 
At which point will you no longer tolerate it? 

Life is full of wolves - determining which ones are masquerading and getting them to reveal their true colours, is the ultimate challenge.   Beware the sheep that howls, for that sheep is likely to be a wolf in disguise.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hunger Games - A Metaphor for Life

Hunger Games - What can we learn from them?

Hunger Games Trailer part 1:

Hunger Game Trailer part 2:

We went to watch the second movie in the Hunger Games story.  It was great.  In just the opening scenes I was reminded of why the Hunger Games is such a good all round metaphor for humanity, with lessons for us all.

Firstly - Lessons For Life 

1. Stand up for what you believe in

When you see things that are not right, when you see or hear something that goes against what you believe in - have the courage to stand up for the injustices of the world.  If you don't then who will?  Does standing idly by watching, make the idle watcher as complicit as those who perpertrate the injustice?  Food for thought.

2. Bullies are everywhere and they take many forms

In the books/movies, we see a number of different bullies - from President Snow,  the game makers themselves and the vindictive way they manipulate players in the 'Games', right down to the people who enforce the laws of the Capitol.   What it teaches us is that you can either let those bullies bring you down and let them rob you of your humanity, your dignity and your self esteem.  Or, you can stand up, (see lesson 1), learn, adapt, become stronger and use those experiences to practice compassion and kindness.  Most importantly, know who your enemy is, seek to find their agendas, and be loyal to your friends and family.

3. That team work and having allies is a way of achieving your goal 

Sometimes going alone is not enough to achieve your goals and you need help and supporters to ensure you reach where you are going.  How long you work with a team or have allies depends on the context and the goal you are wanting to achieve.  Whats important here, is finding and having a team that has a shared vision and understanding of where they are and where they are going.   Take the time to make the connections and the relationships, and you will benefit.

4. Good role models don't have to fit into a 'stereotype'

Popular culture/media tends to portray woman as skinny, well groomed and of a certain personality.  What is powerful in the books/movies, is that both girls and boys have role models from a wide range of backgrounds - both sexes - and across the social spectrum.  In itself, it gives people hope.  There is a character that most people can relate to - from Rue, right through to Peeta and Katniss.  One of my favourites is Cinna.  As her stylist he is clever, he is talented and his character is one of the few that back Katniss from the beginning.  His creations make her popular, he gives her the MockingJay pin and this gives her hope.  Despite his own neck being on the line, he uses his position to make a stand against the regime, standing up for freedom and what he believes in.  Your challenge is to find these role models in real life - who do you know that can inspire you?  What can you do to be that person for yourself and others?

5. Equality is important 

Boys and girls are held in an even light in the Hunger Games.  Both male and female tributes are selected from each district, and the people are open to either winning.  For the most part, male and female characters are on an equal fitting.  If only this was the case in real life.

6. Equity is a hard road to find

Society sets up roadblocks and divisions all the time, and the challenge is to find ways to overcome these barriers.  Money, politics, race and class.  All are designed to set up divisions that stop humanity from being free.  We see many examples of these in the Hunger Games.  Breaking these barriers are difficult and oftentimes the main reason it is difficult is that people suffer from NIMBY, (not in my backyard) and therefore turn a blind eye.  It is too hard to make a stand when that stand will bring disapproval from others or if they believe to give, and break down the barrier, will involve them losing something or not being as well off themselves.   What do you do to ensure an equal playing field?  How do you make the 'games of life' equal?

7. The ability to be self sufficient is important for survival

Like the old adage 'be prepared' (as any young cub, scout, brownie or guide would know, survival is often about the ability to adapt, to be independent and to be self sufficient.  Knowing the basics about how to look after yourself is a lesson we can all learn from.  How independent, self sufficient and prepared are you?  Could you survive is there was a disaster?

8. Hope reigns eternal

'Hope is the only thing stronger than fear'.  Acts of kindness, compassion and love leave people with hope, hope that things will and can be better.  Hope is the spark that can set a world on fire.  The Hunger Games is a powerful story where hope underpins everything.  It starts a revolution and it brings people together.  There is a very strong message and lesson for us all here - that regardless of how tough a situation is, look for the thread of hope, and use this to guide you out the other end.  Hope is the spawning ground of all that is good about humanity.  With hope there is light.

Finally, 2 lessons about reading the books vs seeing the movies.

1. Do not read the book right before seeing the movie

I found the first one a bit of a nuisance and at times frustrating - don't get me wrong - I loved it - but the thing that made me cross was the lack of the finer details (like how Katniss got the MockingJay Pin).  I understand the detail behind the pin was not relevant to the screen play and those little details would only make the movie twice as long, but at the time, I had not long finished reading all the books and the finer details were still imprinted on my mind.  There is nothing more irritating than having just read a book and finding out the movie - whilst good - left details hanging.  The lesson here is not to read the book and almost immediately watch the movie.  Dumb idea - it takes the enjoyment away and leaves you frustrated and you end up dismissing the movie to some degree.

2. Don't let having read a book or a series dissuade you from going to the movie

It has been a year since I read the series and the second movie was brilliant this time because I had forgotten the finer details.  Here is the lesson - sometimes, we need to realise that the reason the finer details are missed out of a movie is because they are superfluous to the meaning and intent of the actual story.  Sure, they are nice to have in the book, but a book is not constrained by how much time it takes for you to read it.  A movie must be done and dusted within an appropriate 'movie' formula.   Here I think the producers and screenwriters did a particularly good job of reconstructing the story to remain true to its intent and the little bits they left out were not important enough to ruin the story.  Whats more, on the screen they are able to show intent with some characters and story lines with more depth than in the actual books.

Most importantly, I am looking forward to seeing the final instalment in the Hunger Games.

I have enjoyed the books and watching them come to life on the big screen.  If you have not read the books or seen the movies - then I would recommend them with a 4.5 out of 5.  Whilst they are teen fiction - the messages, the imagery and the metaphors are all powerful and ones that we can all take heed from.

May the odds be ever in your favour.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Story Of Ada Green

Nursing Staff In Front of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, about 1890
Photo Credit -
Tonight I caught a show I had not previously watched.  It captured my fancy within minutes and I found myself drawn into the show, developing an emotional attachment and empathy for the woman with whom the story centred around.

The show is Family Secret.  It is a reality based TV programme where Journalist David Lomas goes around solving family mysteries.  I was pleasantly surprised with how good the show was.  Mind you, it started in an area of the country I am very familiar with, and the main character was a budding writer - it instantly made a connection with me.   Squirt came in part way through and was captivated by the story as well.

In short, the programme focussed on a woman called Ada Green who was born in 1882.   A distant relative of hers wondered what had happened to her - the family had heard stories but there were no official records about what had happened.  The family had snippets of the poetry she once like to write, and recalled stories of how she had dreamed of becoming a writer and travelling the world. There were rumours that she had been committed to the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and that perhaps she had died in a tragic fire there that had claimed 37 lives, in 1942.  The family contacted the show to see if they could help solve the mystery.

Through his investigations, David uncovered the following:

  • He could not find a grave site for her, or a headstone.
  • Despite the fact she once had a family, she was not mentioned in her fathers obituary, but her 3 brothers were. 
  • She was not on the list of people who had died in the 1942 fire.
  • She was not on any list in any of the death records in NZ.

The mystery deepened.

Squirt and I fantasised that perhaps she had married and left the country, changing her name and realising her dreams.   Alas, this was just that - a fantasy.

David had previously written to Archives NZ and the Otago Health Board and from this discovered that she had indeed been sent to Seacliff when she was around 22.  Seacliff was a notorious Mental Asylum with a very disturbing past, based near Dunedin.   Seacliff used to house up to 500 psychiatric patients at any given time, open from the late 1800s to the early 1970s.  Seacliff is perhaps best known in NZ history for the time the famous kiwi writer Janet Frame was 'staying' there, and narrowly escaped a frontal lobotomy.  Horror stories of lobotomies, electric shock treatment and other frightening but accepted psychiatric treatments abound.

When David received her official file from her time at Seacliff, it was full of sadness.   She spent the next 52 years locked up in a mental asylum where people referred to her as a lunatic.  During that time she endured years of electric shock treatment, subjected to up to 28 treatments a day.  There is no doubt, from the opinion of a modern psychiatrist, that she was admitted with significant psychiatric conditions, and I suspect the doctors and nurses at the time thought they were doing the right thing.  Whichever way you look at it - 52 years locked away, subjected to all kinds of horrifying treatments, is not the life she once dreamed of.  Not once did she hear from her family - if they had written to her, they would have been in her file.  One of her relatives remarked 'they pushed the delete button on her..".

He further discovered that Ada had died in the Asylum hospital in 1957, at the age of 74.  Her body, instead of being buried, had been sent to the Otago University of Anatomy, for 'anatomical experimentation', and her file remarked 'no certificate of burial required'.  This explains why she was unable to be found on the death records.  David contacted the University and they were able to tell him what happened to her body next.  Once the students had finished with her body, she was sent to the crematorium, and her ashes were spread over the Anderson's Bay cemetery and Tomahawk Beach.

Her story struck a chord, and left me sadly mourning for the loss of a life unfulfilled.  The suffering and anguish she must have faced, not to mention the loneliness and heartbreak from the abandonment of her family.  To be forgotten, by her family and by the world - not even a record of burial.  No one to mourn her passing or to be there when she died, or to say a few words about her as they scattered her ashes - at this point she was a nondescript 'anatomical being'.  It is profoundly sad.

The sadness this evoked left me wondering how many other lost souls - artists and creative people - were locked away and forgotten.  What artistic beauty did our world miss out on because of this kind of thing - both here and around the world?   To be creative is not always going to be the status quo, and what is not the status quo, is not always understood by others.

To Ada Green - may your afterlife promise you the peace and serenity your actual life could not deliver, and rest easy knowing that the world has heard your story, and there are those in your family - and strangers - who mourn your lost potential and will not forget.  xxx

Read more about the Asylum here

You can read more bout the show here, and catch up with the story I have written about Via On Demand (may only be available for NZ residents) - also via this link.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Len Brown and the Crusade of the Crucifying Counsellors

The Len Brown issue just won't go away.  Just when you think it has settled down and as a city we can move forward and let the man do what he does best, bam, the saga continues.

It would appear now that his own counsellors have decided to turn against him and head down a 'vote of no confidence' route.  Hmmmm.

Heres my thoughts on the subject, and I will address the elephant in the blog post from the get go.  To be clear, I voted for him - the other candidates just did not stack up - and, whilst the whole sordid affair was not public prior to the election, I would vote for him again.  Not because he is a stunning example of a husband, christian (his claim not mine) or morally upstanding - his actions suggest he clearly is not, but because he is a very effective mayor and he has been a force for good in our city.  There is NO ONE else I would consider to be as good, or a replacement, and that includes those pushing their own agenda on the council.

It appalls me that some counsellors think they are more powerful than those who voted Len Brown in.  Since when should they have the power to overrule the publics democratic vote?  Not to mention all those thousands of people who voted for him.  I did not vote for them - and I find it a gross over stepping of the mark to overrule what the people wanted.  You resign if you feel that affronted by it - but to arrange a modern day political 'lynch mob' - you really do have to ask, what has local body politics come to in our country?

There are claims of polls suggesting Aucklander's want him gone.  Really?  Not only have I not found them, but I wasn't asked to vote.  I suspect any polls from here on are prejudiced by recent media reports and calls from the media to have him resign.  Again, I wonder about the fairness of trial by media...but that is a different debate.

His counsellors want to reign him in by curbing his ability to spend his 4 million dollar discretionary budget.  Sounds like an attempt to control the Mayor and thereby push their own barrows.  And based on what?  A review that found the Mayor had not declared free upgrades and hotel rooms - rooms he had paid for himself I might add.  Wow.  As far as I am aware, there has been no evidence that the Mayor did anything inappropriate in terms of his ability to carry out his job. So, by all means crusade on crucifying the man on a moral ground - but be sure your own glasshouse is shatter proof, and don't try and push your agenda on the back of 'not declaring' freebies he paid for himself.

I need to make it clear, I do not condone his personal activities and his involvement in a sordid affair.   I  personally find it distasteful and a gross lack of judgement.  However, from a logical perspective, if you look at what he achieved during that time, then it is obvious that he was effective - so imagine what he will achieve now he is not distracted?

My main concern is that a group of people can push their own agenda, use the media to ram it home, and disregard and disrespect the democratic process.  That is not ok.  It sets a dangerous precedent and makes a mockery of democracy.   It smacks of dirty politics.

Finally, a message to his 'team'.  Think of those who voted him in - not your own agenda.  You do not have the power or the mandate to take over, and run the city without the cities people democratically voting you such power.  It is my humble opinion that your actions in this matter say more about you and your agenda, that what is actually in the best interests of the city.  I would urge the Mayor to stand firm, not bend to what is essentially a form of political bullying, and continue to do what is best for our city.  

There is a lot of work to be done - enough of the drama - let the man get on with what he does best - lead this city forward!'s-staying-put

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Dichotomy of Christmas

Christmas time is a dichotomy between peace on earth, and stress in the trenches.  

Let me explain.  I will start with the 'Peace on Earth'.

Peace On Earth 

"Christmas bells, those christmas bells.
ringing through the land.
Bringing peace to all the world
and goodwill to man."
(Snoopys Christmas)

Snoopy sums it up well.   In this well loved song, Snoopy's life as a high flying fighter pilot looks certain to be over, as the Baron has him dead in his gun sights, ready to shoot him down.  As if by divine intervention, suddenly the Bells that herald Christmas peal out, spreading a message of peace and love.    Saved by the bell, the Baron wishes Snoopy a merry Christmas and they both fly on their jolly way, knowing the truce was simply a temporary lull in the war.

History has a number of examples of Christmas cease fires and temporary peace during hostilities while all concerned celebrate what Christmas means for them.  You can read more about the famous 1914  Christmas_truce .  The tragedy is that these truces are merely a temporary distraction.   It does highlight however, that Christmas is a time for peace, love and generosity, and despite how difficult our lives can be, or whatever tragedies we face, at least once during the year, all that can be put aside and the goodness of humanity can rise to the fore.

The spirit of Christmas manifests itself in a number of ways.  Whilst Snoopy's story is an example of this in its extreme,  it helps remind us that it is a time of year where we can see the best in people.  Generosity, giving and optimism abound.   We see more examples of the 'holiday cheer' in our communities, as people celebrate and share in these celebrations with others.

In communities across the world, we see people making meaningful connections with others, as over 2 billion humans celebrate what Christmas means to them.  It is a time to take a break, and to spend this time with family and friends.  It is a time to relax.  For those that way inclined, it is a spiritual time of thanks.

Christmas sees the traditions and music of Christmas evoking memories and emotions that are usually associated with family, fun, food, and good times.  Food brings people together and creates memories.  Feelings of goodwill thrive under these conditions.

Finally, to some degree, Christmas is a heralding of renewal as the new year comes closer, and the old one reaches its crescendo.

These are the ingredients of 'Peace on Earth'. 

On the one hand, we witness people full of good cheer, peace and good will for all humanity,  a time of year where we often see the best in people.  On the other hand, we also see the effects of stress on people.  Let me elaborate.

Stress in the trenches. 

These are my top 4 big 'Stresses in the Christmas Trenches'.   The dichotomy of what went before.

Money is one of the biggest stresses of the silly season.  Many of us have the overwhelming pressure of commercialism, and capitalists, all vying for our almighty dollar, encouraging us to spend more than we have, subtly painting a layer of guilt upon our souls.  You would think it is as if by some miracle, the expense of our 'gifts' to our loved ones somehow represent how much we love them.  Pfft - load of old Hogmanay, yet, we still fall for the commercialised trap each year.  Factor in the costs of buying gifts, food, travel (if you are meeting up with family outside your local area), the parties you give and go to, and all the associated 'bling' of Christmas, and money looms as a sword of financial Damocles.

Lets not forget the stress that befalls the person responsible for cooking on Christmas day.  It is usually the females of the family this pressure lands on ( I acknowledge this is an overgeneralisation, but for those of you reading this do ask yourself who does it in your family and home - wink wink, nudge nudge - you know what I mean).  If you have never had to do it, then you will not fully understand or appreciate just how time consuming the planning, preparation, cooking and clean up is.  Lets not forget the expense.  I acknowledge that oftentimes the 'blokes' (yes yes - a further generalisation) do the obligatory dishes - but it is at this point that I would like to make it clear - it is a token gesture at best.  Suffice to say - whilst the food is undoubtedly one of the best parts of Christmas - it is a truckload of work to pull it together and lives in its own category of stress.

Gift buying.   I have already eluded to the expense, but for those of us less organised than our more enlightened gift buyers, many leave this until the last week or so before Christmas.  There is nothing relaxing or euphoric about crowded shopping malls full of frantic last minute shoppers.  Of course, we always say 'next year I will be more organised'.  Sure.  (insert another wink wink, nudge nudge)

Families.  This can go both ways.  Catching up with families is one of the lovely things about Christmas, but it is not stress free.  Add blended families into the mix.  By blended I mean all the kinds of blends you can think of - from in laws, out laws, strange 'hanger onners' and that crazy nut that each family has.   It is rare that everyone gets along like a fuzz on a peach - although it usually starts out well.  We all have friends who have to schedule in family so that one side doesn't have to interact with another.  A cup of yule tide stress anyone?   (NB:  I am not referring to anyone in my family - they are all perfect and lovely....wink wink, nudge nudge)

Now, can you see the dichotomy in the stresses alone?  Look closely - what do those stresses also have in common with the niceties of Christmas?   They are also some of the highlights and joys - gifts, food and family - not necessarily in that order (unless you are Squirt).

I would love to be the font of all knowledge at this point and write endless lists of advice to assist you in navigating the perils of the stresses of Christmas.  With things like,  devise a budget, write lists, live within your means, set a spending limit, exercise restraint .... but actually, you and I both know these things already.  Instead I will leave you with this challenge because it is this that I believe has the power to make the world a better place.

My Challenge to you personally...
Do what you can to minimise the stresses - but do remember this.  You are only human, and the world will not end if you are a last minute shopper, or you burn the pork roast.  Just be kind to yourself.  Hold onto the feelings the evoke 'peace on earth'.  They are your saviour and will allow you to survive the silliest of seasons.

My Challenge for you, your family and until next Christmas ...
Try and keep the goodwill, the peace, the love for your fellow human and the ability to be kind and generous of spirit,  for the whole year.  Imagine our world if we did just that for the whole year, as opposed to implementing a 'temporary ceasefire in hostilities' for just that time.

Finally dear reader, merry christmas to you and yours, may the dichotomy not cause you too much grief.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela - Lessons for Humanity

Today we mourn a legend.

Today the world lost one of the most influential civil rights activists known in our time - a man who inspired generations, and shaped our modern world.  

Nelson Mandela, a revolutionary anti apartheid  activist and arguably one of the greatest leaders of our time.  A hero of South Africa, and indeed, for many across the globe.  His is a legacy that will live on.  

It is a sad loss, and I took time today to reflect on what his legacy for the world is from my perspective.  

He leaves us all with lessons on the power of education, the importance of equity, how we need to value our freedom and standing up for what is right.   

Lesson 1.  Persevere and continue despite adversity

Life is full of setbacks.  It is these setbacks that shape who we are and give us our character.  Learning to overcome obstacles and brushing ourselves off whenever we fall or stumble builds our resilience and ability to adapt to change.  If you are able to pick yourself up when you are faced with a setback you are more able to control a situation and in return experience success.  When you look back on your life, often it is the overcoming of adversity that brings the greatest rewards.   Sometimes it is the hardest lessons we are most proud of.

 Lesson 2.  To be Educated is to be powerful 

An education is indeed a powerful weapon.  It allows humanity to think, to challenge, to question and it promotes participation in society.  They (who they is remains one of the great mysteries of the universe) say education and knowledge is power.  Progress and development is dependent on education.  To open ones mind is to open one to possibilities.  Of course, it is risky if you are a dictator, but education has the power to change the world in so many positive ways.  To deny people an education is to enslave and remove the ability to challenge status quo.  If only our young people who opt out of education understood how transformational it is...and how lucky they are to have access where others in our world are denied that right.  

Lesson 3.  Learn to move on 

Forgive, heal and move forward into the future, embracing the positives.  We have already established that setbacks are part of life, and sometimes it can feel that life sends more than its fair share of knock backs and unfair situations.  When life hands out lemons we can chose to allow those situations to breed hatred and bitterness, or we can find ways to overcome those moments, and instead grow for the better.

Lesson 4.  Don't undersell what you are capable of doing 

Sometimes we put off doing something because the task in front of us seems too hard or too daunting.  To start the journey seems fraught with impossibilities and an unlikely chance of success.   Remember, the greatest fruit is not from the lowest branches, but from that which is the hardest to reach and where one must climb the highest.  The lesson here is an inspiring one - go forth and start.  Don't sell yourself short and write yourself off - often we are never aware of what we are capable of achieving.  There are always solutions - you just have to make a start.  

Lesson 5.  Follow your Vision and rise to your potential

If you have a vision - you should go for it.  Life is a one time deal.  I often wonder to myself when faced with a crossroads - what would I say to myself on my deathbed, as I look back over my life and reflect on the opportunities I have been faced with.  Will I regret it if I don't do it or will I be proud of following my passion even though that might be making the tough choice and taking the path paved with hard work?  Do not live a life of regrets - once we reach the end of our time on our earth, it is too late to do 'do overs'.

  Lesson 6.  Use Your Freedoms to Enhance the Freedoms of Others 

Our world is full of disparity and inequitable outcomes.  Whilst we may all bleed the same, we are not all born with the same opportunities and freedoms.  It leaves me with wonderings.
In what ways do we enhance the freedoms of others throughout our lives?  Freedom can be defined as the following; 

  1. 1.
    the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.

  2. 2.
    the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

For those of us who are not enslaved or imprisoned by war, poverty, religion, or politics, it can be hard to imagine what it is like for those who are or have been.  Do we take our freedom to act, speak or think as we wish for granted, and what do we do in our lives to assist others to have those same freedoms.  In what ways do we advocate for it.  Can we really be 'free' when other human beings are not?

Lesson 7.  Leadership is selfless and courageous

A leader celebrates the successes of their team - they lift them up high and take a backseat in order to allow others to grow in the limelight.  When adversity brings the dark times, this is where the leader steps to the front, to protect and shield their team from any of the approaching storm.  This kind of leadership is selfless and courageous, and it brings people along beside you on any journey you undertake with trust and mutual respect.  Leadership takes many forms, in what ways do you practice courageous and selfless leadership - with your family, your friends, your community, your work?    

Lesson  8.  "Feel your fear and do it anyway"

Our world is a wondrous place full of things to experience and explore.  To do this and to make the most out of opportunities takes the ability to conquer our fears.  Fear - whether it be from something (a snake, spider or other creature), a feeling (like rejection or embarrassment) or a situation (like a new job opportunity) has the ability to paralyse us and put in place boundaries and walls from which escaping can be difficult.  Our ability to grow and move forward into the future is stymied and frozen.  The ability to conquer these fears -  to face them head on and learn valuable lessons from them takes us into new pathways of growth that open doors of possibility, and pave a pathway of success for our future.    To rise above our fears gives us a personal power that builds our resilience and allows us more strength to rise when faced with adversity.

Lesson 9.  Leadership comes in many disguises

What is one persons extraordinary circumstance may not be so to another.  Sometimes, knowing you have a voice and that you have the freedom to exercise that voice, and then acting on it for the common good of others is what is important.  Greatness is often thrust upon others not because they sought it - but because it was the right thing to do.  The challenge is to know when it is your time to step up and seize the opportunity.

Lesson 10.  Teach Love and Tolerance

When we are born we are born with a clean blank canvass - we are not predisposed with the ability to love or hate the moment we take our first breath.  Our experiences and our relationships with others shape this.  As teachers and parents, the power for our young people to be lovers or haters is to a large degree, in our hands.   How our young people see the world and the people in it, is based on the lens with which we give them to view the world.  Hate is such a negative and destructive emotion - it chews up its host and twists them into a bitter and lonely individual, and no loving parent would ever wish this for their child.   How do you teach love, and foster tolerance?  Are you the mirror in which your child is reflected?

                                Lesson 11.  Who you are makes a difference

Finally, the most important lesson of them all.  We all have the ability to make a difference to the world we live in.  One action has the power to change a situation for someone.  It may be something small or it may be something much bigger, either way, it will impact on our world.  From a smile to a stranger, to donating time to a charity - your one good deed may be the catalyst that starts a chain reaction of goodness.  Ask yourself, what have you done today that made a difference.  

RIP Nelson Mandela 

(sources - a big thank you to google images..)


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Naming of the GPS - A Political Comparison

Those who know us, know that I have had a love hate relationship with TechnoMans old GPS for quite some time.

It is my experienced opinion that this particular TomTom is possessed.  It has a mind of its own, and that mind, I am convinced, is determined to make me cross.   There are many stories of how this particular GPS has appeared to have gone out of its way (or so it would seem to me) to be an ornery, contradictory piece of technology, that is quite frankly, possessed with madness.

TechnoMan will tell you - and often me - that the GPS can not possibly care about what you and I think, that it is an inanimate object - a mere technical object designed to make life easier.  Pfft.

However, this post is not about the many stories of bizarre cross country treks, strange offshoots and motorway drives that don't really exist.  No, this post is more about how TechnoMans old GPS (because the good news here is that we replaced it with a slightly better behaved NavMan a few months ago) gave me an idea and resulted in a wondering.

I thought of a name for the old GPS last week.

I was driving down the motorway, and inadvertently took an early offshoot, two stops prior to the one I needed.  Please don't judge - at the time I was quite caught up in my new role as the best 'Rock Star Car Singer Extraordinaire'.   I was paying attention - promise - but I don't drive this route often, so miscalculated when to come off the motorway.   Suffice to say, I was momentarily lost.   Fortunately I have a good sense of direction (one of a handful of skills and unknown facts about me that most people would be surprised about) and a vague idea of where to go, and whilst ten minutes later than expected, arrived where I needed to be.

What does this have to do with TechnoMans old GPS?  I know you are wondering when I will get to the point.

Well, everything.

Firstly, I did not have any GPS with me.  Secondly and most importantly, the whole incident, as I was driving along, reminded me of the old GPS.  It was the kind of thing it would do - take me off track and on some wild 'adventure' (I use adventure in its loosest manner, because what I really mean is a stress induced journey of angst).

It made me wonder what an appropriate name for the old GPS should be.  I would usually just swear at it, but thats hardly an appropriate name.   At the same time, the 8am news come onto the radio (I had stopped being a singer at this point to try to focus more on being a bit lost).  There was a scathing report on something the Government had done - again.

Thats when it struck me.  The perfect name for our old GPS.


That old GPS reminded me of the National Government.

I am serious - let me elaborate on how that most frustrating of all technological of gadgets, our GPS, reminded me of the National Government.

1.   It was always taking us down the wrong road.  Despite the fact that we wanted the most direct and safest route - the GPS would find the most complex, off the main route, kind of roads to travel down.  It never went the direction that was best for its occupants.  It may have eventually got to its destination, but not without causing its weary travellers a substantial amount of stress and grief first.  Lets just say thats similar to so many policies in place I am unsure where to start comparing.  Education would be one example.  So far off track we may as well be heading towards the equivalent of a dirt road.  

2. It wasn't actually 'cheaper' to take the short cut - by the time you compensated for the 'off roading' you actually didn't make the savings you thought - much like asset sales in some ways.  There wasn't the predicted profit and over time, we've lost money on something that was making it.  

3. It is misleading.  That is to say, it leads you into thinking you are making the right decisions, going along the right road, all on track and according to schedule.  The reality is quite different.  Whats actually happening is that you are going away from the beaten track and impending disaster is only a short tight corner away.  What results is an increased anxiety and being more hyper alert because disaster is a mere mishap away.  Again, take your pick on which policy this is applicable to.  Mining anyone?

4. The maps are faulty.  They are outdated and they don't keep up to date with current thinking and current reality.  Much like Nationals policies.  The policies being bulldozed through are not mindful of what is best for the future  - the neo liberal educational drive is un researched and so old fashioned it insults the youth in our schools and neglects the need to be assisting students to be successful today in order to meet the needs of the future.  Without an up to date, innovative road map, you can never hope to get where you are going without losing the way. 

5. It promises much but under delivers.  The gadget appears to be modern, and equipped with all the mod cons but the reality is quite different.  Its like an election campaign.   Promising functionality that is not needed and at an additional expense, all designed to bribe the user.  

And so, the name for the old, faulty, GPS was born.

All this while traversing the motorway.  Good thing I wasn't going on a longer road trip - who knows what wonderings I may have had.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Complexity of Educational Change

"Most change is unplanned" Fullan, 1993:138

This quote strikes a chord for me.

 In my experience, much of the change processes I have found myself managing as a leader - some quite significant (school reorganisation in a network, school closure, health and safety issues around buildings - to name but a smidgeon of processes) have been something that has been imposed upon the school - not something that has been actively sought for the purposes of improved teaching and learning outcomes.

In the same respect, it could be said that curriculum developments in recent years have also been imposed, as opposed to sought.  When something is rushed, it tends to be under thought and over sold. Some years later, after such under planned curriculum changes where implemented, the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost - and they are not, as current research recently released indicates, particularly successful changes.  (cue major understatement - however that is a post for a later time)

Unexpected and unplanned changes are fraught with challenge.  The skills required are vast, and the variables to manage myriad.  The ability to think outside the box, remain positive, put your best foot forward, and to tackle the change with tenacity and professional aplomb, is essential.

As I write, the end of the year is nigh upon us.  Educators across the country are busy at work putting effort into our Charters, Strategic and Annual Plans, and setting targets to improve teaching and learning outcomes.  This is all 'change' that is, in theory,  planned for (albeit through an imposed system, one might argue).

We pour over our data, we look through our self review and we find ourselves strategically putting together, through various forms of consultation, a number of processes and systems for the following years that have at its heart, improved teacher and learner capacity.

This change is the easier to plan for.  Where the challenge lies is in predicting (if indeed that is possible) for the 'unplanned changes', or accommodating and having in place some form of stragtegy that allows you to manage the imposed changes or those changes that sneak up, and are therefore,  difficult to predict.

The challenge for leaders is to carefully manage the competing demands of imposed change, alongside the need for change that is defined by the school, from the data and needs identified within the school - that is, change that is needed for growth and to ensure improved outcomes.

Change is constant.

It is inevitable and indeed, the need to embrace change is undeniable.

We may not like the imposed changes or find it easy to embrace the changes that are unexpected, but one truth about the complexities of educational change that I am assured of, is that for the most part, educational leaders  are capable of great things for students, staff and communities when they manage, lead and inspire others through it.